Wednesday, February 12, 2020

Post-Synodal Apostolic Exhortation

of the Holy Father

to the People of God
and to All Persons of Good Will

The beloved Amazon region stands before the world in all its splendour, its drama and its mystery. God granted us the grace of focusing on that region during the Synod held in Rome from 6-27 October last, which concluded by issuing its Final Document, The Amazon: New Paths for the Church and for an Integral Ecology.

2. During the Synod, I listened to the presentations and read with interest the reports of the discussion groups. In this Exhortation, I wish to offer my own response to this process of dialogue and discernment. I will not go into all of the issues treated at length in the final document. Nor do I claim to replace that text or to duplicate it. I wish merely to propose a brief framework for reflection that can apply concretely to the life of the Amazon region a synthesis of some of the larger concerns that I have expressed in earlier documents, and that can help guide us to a harmonious, creative and fruitful reception of the entire synodal process.

3. At the same time, I would like to officially present the Final Document, which sets forth the conclusions of the Synod, which profited from the participation of many people who know better than myself or the Roman Curia the problems and issues of the Amazon region, since they live there, they experience its suffering and they love it passionately....

Tuesday, January 28, 2020

"In Hoc Signo Vinces" (or "Unlike Agholor") – The "Smell of the Scrapple," and Other Philly Notes

“When I was
a young boy
My father
took me into The City
to see a marching band /

He said,
'Son, when
you grow up
Would you be
The Savior of the broken
the beaten, and the damned?'....
While on the usual after-hours circuit at the 2014 November meeting of the US bishops, this scribe stopped to wave and nod to a familiar trio of prelates holed up at a table in the Marriott lounge.

Per his habit, the then-auxiliary of Rockville Centre wasn't with his old confreres from Philadelphia, but the bench's contingent of his fellow Cuban exiles: the auxiliaries of Brooklyn and Newark, Bishops Octavio Cisneros and Manny Cruz. (Somehow, the group's senior member – Felipe Estevez, the Miami-bred bishop of St Augustine – was oddly missing.)

To be sure, Nelson Perez would always join the other Philly priests-made-bishops for their traditional dinner during the week, but – having spent 15 years in these night sessions (i.e. the part of the day when Whispers' work really gets done) – the rest of the time, Nelson invariably wound down the days with the conference's Latino bloc, often including the now-president, LA's Archbishop José Gomez.

In any case, on the night mentioned, Cisneros shouted a memorable greeting my way: "Now you can say you saw the Cubans preparing the 'invasion'!"

Five years later, little could any of us have imagined how that line would prove prophetic.

*  *  *
Having spent the last six days going back through the in-house Archive, the notion of Perez's return to Philadelphia as the Tenth Archbishop was first raised in conversation with an op as early as February 2018 – a month that notably marked another local watershed on the faith-front: the Eagles' first Super Bowl victory, which brought some 5 million of our own into the streets.

Still, even if the prospect of the first "restoration" in 102 years remained a secret to the yokels at the Inquirer, whatever one's record of chops on this beat, the reality of the choice remains a matter of adjustment – or, as the Pope's pick termed it at his free-form Thursday homecoming, "It is surreal for all."

That Nelson is already powerfully aware of this underscores the lack of learning curve that he'll have upon his Installation on February 18th (itself the US' shortest transition in recent memory, besting then-Bishop Sean O'Malley's 29-day entrance into Boston in 2003). At the same time, though, how the trenches are absorbing the new reality speaks to what's arguably the first actual effect this appointment has already had here, even before our prodigal son formally enters the reins.

For nearly two centuries since Philadelphia Catholicism's cultural paradigm was redefined from 1830 onward – when the Dublin-born, 30-something Bishop Francis Kenrick created a system of clericalist rule to eviscerate the lay trustees who drove this infant diocese into schism – the products of said dynamic have been trained and formed, practically from the womb, to hold the office of Archbishop with two things: awe and distance, a legacy which has inevitably rubbed off on the occupants of the post.

Even into the present, see, the overwhelming sense among people and priests alike has remained that a call from the Boss or a summons to meet with him is an event you simply hoped never to experience, because it almost surely meant your ass was in a sling about something. And however unintended it's been, the reality of successive occupants from outside who've had difficulty relating to this unique context – to say nothing of 15 years over which damage control has been the Chancery's foremost priority – have merely served to compound the degree of fear and reticence anytime Pharaoh would show up.

And now, all of a sudden, that historic dread has been lifted – like a sledgehammer hitting a plate-glass window, it might just be gone forever. In other words, to employ a term that's been used for the Pope who named him, simply by emerging as Francis' choice, the guy we've all long known by his first name alone has already accomplished something remarkable: the "demystification" of the job that's long been viewed, both here and beyond, as American Catholicism's last absolute monarch.

Indeed, only the selection of one of our own could have done this, let alone – literally – overnight. Still, as Nelson's never held a role of significant authority in his home-church, this first break points to the question on practically everyone's mind: How will a lifetime of relationships and institutional memory translate into governance? Or, as the Old Guard would have it even now, "What else is he gonna try getting away with?"

Even as the Archbishop-elect has been credited with being "an outside-the-box thinker" during his first Chancery stint in the 1990s, the full shape of it will only become clear with time... however, it might help to remember the Latin(o) approach to things: in English, "More is more."

*  *  *
As he faced his first opening for an auxiliary bishop in late 2013, Archbishop Charles Chaput OFM Cap. began the process with one aim in mind: the appointment of a Hispanic priest to serve a burgeoning immigrant population.

While Philadelphia has historically had pockets of Latinos (predominantly Puerto Ricans) in a handful of neighborhoods, the demographics have radically shifted since the mid-1990s as waves of Mexican emigres began settling here, whether for service-labor jobs in the city or agricultural work at the western and southern edges of this five-county fold.

Per diocesan figures, the Philly church's Hispanic population doubled in size from 2000 to 2016 – and, indeed, given the widespread tendency of the undocumented to shirk civil or ecclesial registrations to avoid being found, odds are the spike is bigger still. Nonetheless, the Capuchin prelate was given the same response nearly every US bishop receives on seeking a Hispanic deputy: the Holy See simply didn't have enough promotable Latino candidates to accommodate the request. (For every Stateside petition for a Latin bishop, experience shows the demand is such that one is only able to be provided in roughly every five or six cases.)

Of course, as candidates from ethnic "minorities" are drawn from national lists, Philadelphia's own best-equipped Hispanic had already been snapped up, sent to Long Island and a hat just shy of his 51st birthday. Yet in the end, it all worked out: had Chaput nabbed his desired Latin auxiliary six years ago, it is virtually certain that Perez's homecoming to the 12th Floor of "The 2's" – 222 N. 17th Street (The Philadelphia Chancery) – would never have come to pass.

This isn't the first time the process has only worked over the long haul. One has to be around long enough to be able to understand that.

On a related note, while a good bit of media reaction to the appointment has aimed for sensationalism over substance – above all in terms of seeking to pit predecessor and successor as somehow in opposition to each other on questions of secular politics – back in reality, any notion of a "wedge" between the two archbishops is simply preposterous... or, to use a common Chaput-ism, utterly "foolish." (To use a shorthand the brothers will appreciate, the Pope has named Pérez – not Perzan – as Archbishop.)

For all of the retiring prelate's very well-known qualities after 25 years on the national stage, a poker face ain't among them and never has been. Accordingly, were Chaput in any way displeased with the pick, it wouldn't have taken much to sense it at Thursday's presser – indeed, even the yokels at the Inquirer would've been able to notice.

Given that, it's admittedly hard to recall the last time the Ninth Archbishop sparkled like that in public in this town – after eight years spent battling the archdiocese's century of demons (and worn tired from it), his long-held wish to retire quickly had been granted with lightning speed... and at least as much, the pleasure was clear that his succession belonged to, as he put it, "exactly the man with exactly the abilities our [local] church needs."

History shows how that praise was no fleeting act of magnanimity. Within months of Perez's transfer to Long Island in 2012, Chaput brought his eventual successor back for the archdiocese's annual Hispanic Heritage Mass... and in a gesture underscoring his esteem for the "baby bishop," the archbishop let the young auxiliary use the Chair of St John Neumann for the occasion (above) while the former took a concelebrant's seat in his own Cathedral – a rare yield, one usually rendered only to senior prelates (read: cardinals or Vatican officials) who deign to visit.

(What's more, as Nelson's name began to gather steam over the last six weeks or so – from personal memory, roughly the same point in the process at which the identities of both Chaput and his predecessor, now-Cardinal Justin Rigali, likewise began to emerge – it is telling that two of the Whispers ops who started floating Perez at that stage were sources familiar with the mind of the incumbent.)

At 52, Chaput became the nation's youngest archbishop on his return to Denver, where he had already spent 15 years as a pastor and provincial of his order. And now, 23 years later in the Northeast, that same distinction belongs to his replacement – another well-loved parish priest where he's been restored: Philadelphia's youngest chief shepherd since John Krol himself came here at 50 in 1961... and, again, he too from Cleveland at that.

It's been a long 15 years, but in more ways than one, the circle has completed itself.

Speaking of the circle in the (Logan) Square, it should not be lost on anyone that the Archbishop-elect was himself a parish priest here at the time of the 2005 and 2011 city grand jury reports on the response to abuse by the Chancery he now inherits.

For those of us who lived through the agony of those days – and, if we're going to be fully honest, still carry the wounds of them – the transition of role we're now witnessing isn't just meteoric in its timeframe, but staggering in its impact.

*   *   *

Lastly for now, to one and all of this crowd who've taken a moment over these days to share your closeness, good wishes and prayers, this son of Philadelphia simply can't thank you enough. Even if every appointment is a local church's nonpareil moment of realizing how none of us are ever islands unto ourselves, the flood of notes and calls on this one have made that feeling ever more concrete and moving, and that's meant more than the world.

Beyond the reality of the choice, there's something else to get used to on this end – after a year of daily work and consultations to prepare for this move, and with it the personal sense of sweating the outcome, losing sleep over it (and, in ways you can't imagine, being hounded by the locals about it), the air of foreboding it bore (like a knife hanging over one's head) is suddenly gone, with something much happier and easier in its place.

As birthday presents go, I couldn't have asked for a better one than this... and sure enough, it was even delivered in Whispers Form: 48 hours in advance.

Everything you've seen above – and, indeed, below – is merely a first "snapshot" of a very full scene, the threads of which began long before us and have taken a lifetime of immersion to grasp. In that light, after a year's worth of soundings from among our folks, now that we know who's coming, a fresh round is well underway to begin figuring out our road ahead.

As some of the wider world knows, we're not exactly a shy people, and the input has reflected that in spades. Still, just as certain critical elements kept popping up in charting the course toward the optimal nominee, the same two words are now coming in from across all sorts of divides – burbs and city, people and priests, right and left, Anglos, Latins and the rest:

"I'm hopeful."

"I'm hopeful."

"I'm hopeful...."

And after 15 long, hard years, just hearing that almost feels like a miracle in itself.

That said, though, however "hopeful" we want to be, that won't keep the ground in Aston from sinking; it doesn't mean that we've seen our last cases of clerical misconduct or embezzlement... and, brutal as it is, even the utmost "hopeful" we can muster will not spare Nelson from the specter of a fresh round of school consolidations and closing 100 more parishes, on top of the 70 already shuttered over the last six years.

Nonetheless, just like his predecessors, the incoming Boss will have everything he needs to succeed. And what was true for Pharaohs past remains so for the next of the line – namely, the fulfillment of his mandate is contingent on one thing alone: the degree to which this Archbishop chooses to tap into the goodwill, talent, fidelity and commitment of his people, his religious and clergy, and the wider community to which he returns... because, well, it's one of Philadelphia's most open secrets that when the Church in this place fails, the whole of this region suffers. And Lord knows we have suffered enough.

In early November, the donors and stakeholders who keep Whispers afloat received a private briefing from this scribe, which included the consultation I submitted on this appointment. Those who received it might want to read the salient piece again... either way, it ended with these words: "The people I love most have earned nothing less."

Suffice it to say, the call went through. But it is only the beginning of a defining Encounter ahead.

As the full detail of these weeks would probably bore most of this crowd, the "Director's Cut" of the succession is a matter for the next internal brief. Meantime, as there's now a transition to handle on the home-front – and no shortage of other things soon to drop elsewhere – as ever, keeping this work afloat relies solely on your support:


Wednesday, January 22, 2020

Querido Nelson, Welcome Home – Bearing Shades of Krol and Bevy, Cleveland Returns to Philadelphia

Now 212 years into our life as a local church, God's People here in Philadelphia came to accrue an odd distinction in American Catholicism... well, one among others: given the insularity of this place, we've become the last major Stateside diocese that only ever had white bishops....

That is, until now – and the streak ends with a memorable splash onto the Chair of St John Neumann.

Per three Whispers ops, Pope Francis is set to name Nelson Perez – the 58 year-old son of Cuban exiles, until now the bishop of Cleveland, ordained a priest of Philadelphia in 1989 – as his adopted home's 10th Archbishop on Thursday, 23 January.

The move comes four months after the 75th birthday of Archbishop Charles Chaput OFM Cap., who widely aired his wish to be retired quickly after 32 years as an active prelate, the last eight of them embroiled in attempting to rescue the 1.1 million-member Philly fold from a financial and managerial free-fall – an ongoing plate which now includes an unprecedented Federal investigation into clergy sex-abuse across the entire province (i.e. state) his successor will inherit.

And as for the guy this scribe has only ever called "Nelson" – a fellow son of my own father in all this – at first blush, this feels like the best of both worlds: even for his Miami birth and North Jersey boyhood, a figure "native" enough to know and be able to engage the ironclad local culture... yet still sufficiently "outside" as to challenge the intransigence of the same.

With his appointment, Perez is set to become the US' third Hispanic archbishop – an unprecedented number, alongside the metropolitans of San Antonio and Los Angeles, the latter now the first Latin President of the nation's bishops. At the same time, it is significant that Nelson would be the nation's first Latin metropolitan outside of a predominantly Hispanic outpost.

More to come – but for now, as a Philadelphian, the moment still has to sink in.

Above all, again, let us pray in the ways these streets have taught our people...

...y querido hermano – ahora nuestro Pastor – in the words of our history, "receive the certificate of the Cross you will soon carry": Nelson, here's your mandate.


Wednesday, January 01, 2020

Buon Anno... Come, Lord

“At ubi venit plenitudo temporis, misit Deus Filium suum
factum ex muliere, factum sub lege,
ut eos, qui sub lege erant, redimeret,
ut adoptionem filiorum reciperemus....

[“When the fullness of time had come, God sent his Son:
born of a woman, born under the law,
to ransom those under the law,
so that we might receive adoption as sons....
*   *   *
Before all else, a Blessed Christmas and all the promise of this New Year to you and yours, and especially to those you serve – hope these days have made for a very graced break from the usual! Either way, gratefully, it's still going....

Much as the Fall Cycle now past pretty much unfolded according to plan, given the intensity of these weeks – let alone what awaits over the ones to come – hope you'll understand how this scribe's needed a breather. Lest it wasn't clear, see, even Whispers needs to be human sometimes, even if that means catching the seasonal bug along the way. Still, the lull here will continue as long as events allow – precisely because, before long, they won't. In other words, enjoy the quiet while it lasts.

Nonetheless, there are some critical things to pray over in these days... so where words (or, indeed, the readership's part) fall short, Tradition luckily kicks in.

Ergo, per centuries of Catholic custom at the "gate of the year," may we all join to invoke a new birth of the Spirit – the "Father of the Poor," Whose movement is "not about building walls, but about breaking them down"...

...and given the moment at hand in these pages' home, please pray with us that God's People here in Philadelphia might have the help we need to begin making a Church again in this place, that we can finally start rebuilding from the wasteland that our Chancery and its culture have left us.

Veni, Creator Spiritus....



Saturday, December 21, 2019

"Brothers and Sisters, Christendom No Longer Exists!" – At Curial Christmas, The Pope's "Hermeneutic of 'Change'"

Over the last two pontificates, what's formally known as the Pope's Christmas "greeting" to his Curial chiefs has gone well beyond glad tidings – if anything, the forum has arguably made for the most significant in-house speech of the year for Benedict and Francis both.

The traditional opening "bookend" to Vatican Christmas – which closes in early January with the "State of the World" address to the diplomatic corps accredited to the Holy See – at today's appointment, the reigning pontiff yet again focused on his continuing effort on the reform of the Roman Curia, the wholesale thrust of which might finally be executed in the New Year with the most sweeping makeover of the church's central government since Vatican II. Yet while Francis employed today's talk to deliver a pointed counter to his predecessor's 2005 manifesto on "continuity," the Pope's message of "change" was exponentially amplified with his announcement that the Curia's most powerful figure of the last generation would leave his final post.

Despite being retired as Secretary of State since 2006, Cardinal Angelo Sodano has managed to retain a staggering degree of clout in the Vatican ranks, above all through his proficiency at filling the middle management of the dicasteries with loyalists over his 16 years as the Holy See's de facto COO under John Paul II. Yet at the same time, as reports piled up of the now 92 year-old cardinal's direct involvement in several major scandals – above all the cases of two globally known predators: the Legion of Christ founder Marcial Maciel Degollado and Chile's most prominent abuser, Fernando Karadima, both close Sodano allies – the veteran diplomat remained a glaringly public presence given his enduring role as Dean of the College of Cardinals: by law the church's #2 figure, and the one who presides over nearly every aspect of a vacancy of the papacy itself.

As of this morning, that dilemma is over: long perceived as needing to be "waited out" by Francis, the Pope accepted Sodano's resignation as Cardinal-Dean, with a successor soon to be elected by the now 10 cardinal-bishops (the top rank of the College, comprised of the most senior Curial prefects).

Together with this month's naming of Cardinal Chito Tagle as prefect of the Propaganda Fide, the long-awaited opening of the Deanship – a critical moment given the post's role in an eventual interregnum – represents the second instance of "succession planning" Francis has dealt with in as many weeks. Accordingly, in tandem with Sodano's departure, the pontiff issued a motu proprio changing the rules for the office of Cardinal-Dean; until now a lifetime post upon election (and its requisite confirmation by the Pope), Francis' new norms provide that the Dean is to be elected for a term of five years, which may be "renewable."

In practice, the norms will short-circuit the odd hypothetical that risked becoming reality over recent years – namely, that with all the cardinal-bishops already older than 80 (and thus ineligible to enter a Conclave), as presiding over the election falls either to the Dean or the senior cardinal-bishop if the Dean is aged out, the voting for the next Pope would've been overseen by one of the Eastern Patriarchs who had been given the red hat.

As Francis began to remedy the lacuna by adding four Curialists of electoral age to the ranks of the Cardinal-Bishops last year – any of whom would've enjoyed precedence over a patriarch – today's reform virtually ensures that future Deans will be of voting age. (As an aside, today's norms conspicuously lack any changes to the role and term of the Vice-Dean of the College; the holder of that post, the retired Bishops' Czar Cardinal Giovanni Battista Re, will turn 86 next month. As the senior Cardinal-Bishop of voting age, Re presided over the 2013 Conclave.)

Yet what's more, as the Dean conducts the all-important General Congregations of the cardinals leading up to the Conclave – as well as presiding at (and preaching) both a papal funeral (where applicable) and the final public Mass before the election – it's no less significant that the role's outsize importance in setting the stage for the Making of a Pope even before the vote will belong to a still-active figure. Along these lines, it's important to recall that the last time an active Dean presided over a Conclave, he – namely, Joseph Ratzinger – ended up being elected, with his deft handling of the transition cited as a sizable asset in assuaging skeptics.

With that procedural note duly handled, now for the main event – below is the official English translation of today's loaded address by the Pope, its significance likely to see it dubbed Francis' "hermeneutic of 'change'" speech going forward.

*  *  *
“And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us” (Jn 1:14)

Dear brothers and sisters,

I offer all of you a cordial welcome. I express my gratitude to Cardinal Angelo Sodano for his kind words and in a particular way I thank him, also in the name of the members of the College of Cardinals, for the valued service he has long provided as Dean, in a spirit of helpfulness, dedication and efficiency, and with great skill in organization and coordination. In the manner of “la rassa nostrana”, as the Piedmontese writer Nino Costa would say. Now the Cardinal Bishops have to elect a new dean. I am hoping they will elect someone who can carry this important responsibility full time. Thank you.

To each of you here, to your co-workers and all those who serve in the Curia, but also to the Papal Representatives and their staff, I extend my best wishes for a holy and joyful Christmas. And I add my appreciation for the dedication that you bring daily to your service of the Church. Thank you very much.

Once again this year, the Lord gives us the opportunity to gather for this moment of fellowship which strengthens our fraternity and is grounded in our contemplation of God’s love revealed at Christmas. A contemporary mystic has written that “the birth of Christ is the greatest and most eloquent witness of how much God loved man. He loved him with a personal love. That is why he took a human body, united it to himself and made it his own forever. The birth of Christ is itself a ‘covenant of love’, sealed for all time between God and man”.[1] As Saint Clement of Alexandria writes, “Christ came down and assumed our humanity, willingly sharing in our human sufferings, for this reason: so that, having experienced the frailty of those whom he loves, he could then make us experience his great power”.[2]

In the light of this boundless benevolence and love, our exchange of Christmas greetings is yet another chance to respond to Christ’s new commandment: “Even as I have loved you, you must also love one another. By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another” (Jn 13:34-35). Jesus does not ask us to love him in response to his love for us; rather, he asks us to love one another as he does. In other words, he asks us to become like him, since he became like us. As Saint John Henry Newman prayed: “May each Christmas, as it comes, find us more and more like Him, who at this time became a little child for our sake, more simple-minded, more humble, more holy, more affectionate, more resigned, more happy, more full of God”.[3] And he went on to say: “[Christmas] is a time for innocence, and purity, and gentleness, and mildness, and contentment, and peace”[4].

This mention of Newman brings to mind his well-known words in his Essay on the Development of Christian Doctrine, a book that coincided chronologically and spiritually with his entry into the Catholic Church: “Here below to live is to change, and to be perfect is to have changed often”.[5] Naturally, he is not speaking about changing for change’s sake, or following every new fashion, but rather about the conviction that development and growth are a normal part of human life, even as believers we know that God remains the unchanging centre of all things.[6]

For Newman change was conversion, in other words, interior transformation.[7] Christian life is a journey, a pilgrimage. The history of the Bible is a journey, marked by constantly new beginnings. So it was with Abraham. So it was too with those Galileans who two thousand years ago set out to follow Jesus: “When they had brought their boats to land, they left everything and followed him” (Lk 5:11). From that time forward, the history of God’s people – the history of the Church – has always been marked by new beginnings, displacements and changes. This journey, of course, is not just geographical, but above all symbolic: it is a summons to discover the movement of the heart, which, paradoxically, has to set out in order to remain, to change in order to be faithful.[8]

All of this has particular importance for our time, because what we are experiencing is not simply an epoch of changes, but an epochal change. We find ourselves living at a time when change is no longer linear, but epochal. It entails decisions that rapidly transform our ways of living, of relating to one another, of communicating and thinking, of how different generations relate to one another and how we understand and experience faith and science. Often we approach change as if were a matter of simply putting on new clothes, but remaining exactly as we were before. I think of the enigmatic expression found in a famous Italian novel: “If we want everything to stay the same, then everything has to change” (The Leopard by Giuseppe Tomasi di Lampedusa).

The more healthy approach is to let oneself be challenged by the questions of the day and to approach them with the virtues of discernment, parrhesía and hypomoné. Seen in this light, change takes on a very different aspect: from something marginal, incidental or merely external, it would become something more human and more Christian. Change would still take place, but beginning with man as its centre: an anthropological conversion.[9]

We need to initiate processes and not just occupy spaces: “God manifests himself in historical revelation, in history. Time initiates processes and space crystalizes them. God is in history, in the processes. We must not focus on occupying the spaces where power is exercised, but rather on starting long-run historical processes. We must initiate processes rather than occupy spaces. God manifests himself in time and is present in the processes of history. This gives priority to actions that give birth to new historical dynamics. And it requires patience, waiting”.[10] In this sense, we are urged to read the signs of the times with the eyes of faith, so that the direction of this change should “raise new and old questions which it is right that we should face”.[11]

In discussing a change that is grounded mainly in fidelity to the depositum fidei and the Tradition, today I would like to speak once more of the implementation of the reform of the Roman Curia and to reaffirm that this reform has never presumed to act as if nothing had preceded it. On the contrary, an effort was made to enhance the good elements deriving from the complex history of the Curia. There is a need to respect history in order to build a future that has solid roots and can thus prove fruitful. Appealing to memory is not the same as being anchored in self-preservation, but instead to evoke the life and vitality of an ongoing process. Memory is not static, but dynamic. By its very nature, it implies movement. Nor is tradition static; it too is dynamic, as that great man [Gustav Mahler] used to say: tradition is the guarantee of the future and not a container of ashes.

Dear brothers and sisters,

In our previous Christmas meetings, I spoke of the criteria that inspired this work of reform. I also explained some changes already implemented, whether definitively or ad experimentum.[12] In 2017, I highlighted some new elements in the organization of the Curia. I gave as examples: the Third Section of the Secretariat of State, which is working very well; the relationship between the Roman Curia and particular Churches, with reference also to the ancient practice of the Visits ad limina Apostolorum; and the structure of some Dicasteries, especially that for the Oriental Churches and those for ecumenical and interreligious dialogue, particularly with Judaism.

In today’s meeting, I would like to reflect on some other Dicasteries, beginning with the heart of the reform, that is, with the first and most important task of the Church, which is evangelization. As Saint Paul VI stated: “Evangelizing is in fact the grace and vocation proper to the Church, her deepest identity. She exists in order to evangelize”.[13] Today too, Evangelii Nuntiandi continues to be the most important pastoral document of the post-conciliar period. Indeed, the aim of the current reform is that “the Church’s customs, ways of doing things, times and schedules, language and structures can be suitably channeled for the evangelization of today’s world rather than for her self-preservation. The renewal of structures demanded by pastoral conversion can only be understood in this light: as part of an effort to make them more mission-oriented” (Evangelii Gaudium, 27). Consequently, inspired by the magisterium of the Successors of Peter from the time of the Second Vatican Council until the present, it was decided to give the title Praedicate Evangelium to the new Apostolic Constitution being prepared on the reform of the Roman Curia. A missionary outlook.

For this reason, I would like to discuss today some of the Dicasteries of the Roman Curia whose names explicitly refer to this: the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith and the Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples. I think, too, of the Dicastery for Communication and the Dicastery for Promoting Integral Human Development.

The first two Congregations mentioned were established in an age when it was easier to distinguish between two rather well-defined realities: a Christian world and a world yet to be evangelized. That situation no longer exists today. People who have not yet received the Gospel message do not live only in non-Western continents; they live everywhere, particularly in vast urban concentrations that call for a specific pastoral outreach. In big cities, we need other “maps”, other paradigms, which can help us reposition our ways of thinking and our attitudes. Brothers and sisters, Christendom no longer exists! Today we are no longer the only ones who create culture, nor are we in the forefront or those most listened to.[14] We need a change in our pastoral mindset, which does not mean moving towards a relativistic pastoral care. We are no longer living in a Christian world, because faith – especially in Europe, but also in a large part of the West – is no longer an evident presupposition of social life; indeed, faith is often rejected, derided, marginalized and ridiculed.

This point was clearly made by Benedict XVI when he proclaimed the 2012 Year of Faith: “Whereas in the past it was possible to recognize a unitary cultural matrix, broadly accepted in its appeal to the content of the faith and the values inspired by it, today this no longer seems to be the case in large swathes of society, because of a profound crisis of faith that has affected many people”.[15] This also led to the establishment in 2010 of the Pontifical Council for the Promotion of the New Evangelization for the sake of fostering “a renewed evangelization in the countries where the first proclamation of the faith has already resonated and where Churches with an ancient foundation exist but are experiencing the progressive secularization of society and a sort of ‘eclipse of the sense of God’, which pose a challenge to finding appropriate means to propose anew the perennial truth of Christ’s Gospel”.[16] At times I have spoken about this with some of you… I think of five countries that filled the world with missionaries – I told you which ones they are – and today lack the vocational resources to go forward. That is today’s world.

The realization that epochal change raises serious questions about the identity of our faith did not burst suddenly on the scene.[17] It gave rise to the term “new evangelization”, then taken up by Saint John Paul II, who wrote in his Encyclical Letter Redemptoris Missio: “Today the Church must face other challenges and push forward to new frontiers, both in the initial mission ad gentes and in the new evangelization of those peoples who have already heard Christ proclaimed” (No. 30). What is needed is a new evangelization or a re-evangelization (cf. No. 33).

All of this necessarily entails changes and shifts in focus, both within the above-mentioned Dicasteries and within the Curia as a whole.[18]

I would also add a word about the recently established Dicastery for Communication. Here too we are speaking of epochal change, inasmuch as “broad swathes of humanity are immersed in [the digital world] in an ordinary and continuous manner. It is no longer merely a question of ‘using’ instruments of communication, but of living in a highly digitalized culture that has had a profound impact on ideas of time and space, on our self-understanding, our understanding of others and the world, and our ability to communicate, learn, be informed and enter into relationship with others. An approach to reality that privileges images over listening and reading has influenced the way people learn and the development of their critical sense” (Christus Vivit, 86).

The Dicastery for Communication has been entrusted with the responsibility of unifying in a new institution the nine bodies that, in various ways and with different tasks, had previously dealt with communications. These were the Pontifical Council for Social Communications, the Holy See Press Office, the Vatican Press, the Vatican Publishing House, L’Osservatore Romano, Vatican Radio, the Vatican Television Centre, the Vatican Internet Service and the Photographic Service. This consolidation, as I have said, was meant not simply for better coordination, but also for a reconfiguration of the different components in view of offering a better product and keeping to a consistent editorial line.

The new media culture, in its variety and complexity, calls for an appropriate presence of the Holy See in the communications sector. Today, we are living in a multimedia world and this affects our way of conceiving, designing and providing media services. All this entails not only a change of culture but also an institutional and personal conversion, in order to pass from operating in self-contained units – which in the best cases had a certain degree of coordination – to working in synergy, in an intrinsically interconnected way.

Dear brothers and sisters,

Much of what I have been saying is also applicable to the Dicastery for Promoting Integral Human Development. It too was recently established in response to the changes that have taken place on the global level, and amalgamates four previous Pontifical Councils: those of Justice and Peace, Cor Unum, and the pastoral care of Migrants and of Healthcare Workers. The overall unity of the tasks entrusted to this Dicastery is summed up in the first words of the Motu Proprio Humanam Progressionem that instituted it: “In all her being and actions, the Church is called to promote the integral development of the human person in the light of the Gospel. This development takes place by attending to the inestimable goods of justice, peace and the care of creation”. It takes place by serving those who are most vulnerable and marginalized, particularly those forced to emigrate, who at the present time represent a voice crying in the wilderness of our humanity. The Church is thus called to remind everyone that it is not simply a matter of social or migration questions but of human persons, of our brothers and sisters who today are a symbol of all those discarded by the globalized society. She is called to testify that for God no one is a “stranger” or an “outcast”. She is called to awaken consciences slumbering in indifference to the reality of the Mediterranean Sea, which has become for many, all too many, a cemetery.

I would like to recall how important it is that development be integral. Saint Paul VI observed that “to be authentic, development must be integral; it must foster the development of every man and of the whole man” (Populorum Progressio, 14). In a word, grounded in her tradition of faith and appealing in recent decades to the teaching of the Second Vatican Council, the Church consistently affirms the grandeur of the vocation of all human beings, whom God has created in his image and likeness in order to form a single family. At the same time, she strives to embrace humanity in all its dimensions.

It is precisely this integral aspect that nowadays makes us recognize that our common humanity unites us as children of one Father. “In all her being and actions, the Church is called to promote the integral development of the human person in the light of the Gospel (Humanam Progressionem). The Gospel always brings the Church back to the mysterious logic of the incarnation, to Christ who took upon himself our history, the history of each of us. That is the message of Christmas. Humanity, then, is the key for interpreting the reform. Humanity calls and challenges us; in a word, it summons us to go forth and not fear change.

Let us not forget that the Child lying in the manger has the face of our brothers and sisters most in need, of the poor who “are a privileged part of this mystery; often they are the first to recognize God’s presence in our midst” (Admirabile Signum, 6).

Dear brothers and sisters,

We are speaking, then, about great challenges and necessary balances that are often hard to achieve, for the simple fact that, poised between a glorious past and a changing, creative future, we are living in the present. Here there are persons who necessarily need time to grow; there are historical situations to be dealt with on a daily basis, since in the process of the reform the world and history do not stop; there are juridical and institutional questions that need to be resolved gradually, without magic formulas or shortcuts.

There is, finally, the dimension of time and there is human error, which must rightly be taken into consideration. These are part of the history of each one of us. Not to take account of them is to go about doing things in abstraction from human history. Linked to this difficult historical process there is always the temptation to fall back on the past (also by employing new formulations), because it is more reassuring, familiar, and, to be sure, less conflictual. This too is part of the process and risk of setting in motion significant changes.[19]

Here, there is a need to be wary of the temptation to rigidity. A rigidity born of the fear of change, which ends up erecting fences and obstacles on the terrain of the common good, turning it into a minefield of incomprehension and hatred. Let us always remember that behind every form of rigidity lies some kind of imbalance. Rigidity and imbalance feed one another in a vicious circle. And today this temptation to rigidity has become very real.

Dear brothers and sisters,

The Roman Curia is not a body detached from reality, even though this risk is always present. Rather, it should be thought of and experienced in the context of the journey of today’s men and women, and against the backdrop of this epochal change. The Roman Curia is not a palace or a wardrobe full of clothes to be changed. The Roman Curia is a living body, and all the more so to the extent that it lives the Gospel in its integrity.

Cardinal Martini, in his last interview, a few days before his death, said something that should make us think: “The Church is two hundred years behind the times. Why is she not shaken up? Are we afraid? Fear, instead of courage? Yet faith is the Church’s foundation. Faith, confidence, courage… Only love conquers weariness”.[20]

Christmas is the feast of God’s love for us. The divine love that inspires, guides and corrects change, and overcomes the human fear of leaving behind “security” in order once more to embrace the “mystery”.

A happy Christmas to all!

In preparation for Christmas, we have listened to sermons on the Holy Mother of God. Let us turn to her before the blessing.

[Hail Mary and blessing].

Now I would like to give you a little gift of two books. The first is the “document” that I wanted to issue for the Extraordinary Missionary Month [October 2019], and did do in the form of an interview; Senza di Lui non possiamo fare nulla – Without Him We Can Do Nothing. I was inspired by a saying, I don’t know by whom, that when missionaries arrive in a place, the Holy Spirit is already there waiting for them. That was the inspiration for this document. The second gift is a retreat given to priests recently by Father Luigi Maria Epicoco, Qualcuno a cui guardare – Someone To Whom We Can Look. I give you these from the heart so that they can be of use to the whole community. Thank you!


[1] MATTA EL MESKEEN, L’Umanità di Dio, Qiqajon-Bose, Magnano 2015, 170-171.

[2] Quis dives salvetur 37, 1-6.

[3] Sermon 7, “The Mystery of Godliness”, Parochial and Plain Sermons, V.

[4] Ibid.

[5] Chapter 1, Section 1, Part 7.

[6] In one of his prayers, Newman writes: “There is nothing stable but Thou, O my God! And Thou art the centre and life of all who change, who trust Thee as their Father, who look to Thee, and who are content to put themselves into Thy hands. I know, O my God, I must change, if I am to see Thy face!” (Meditations and Devotions, XI, “God Alone Unchangeable”).

[7] Newman describes it like this: “I was not conscious to myself, on my conversion, of any change, intellectual or moral, wrought in my mind... it was like coming into port after a rough sea; and my happiness on that score remains to this day without interruption” (Apologia Pro Vita Sua, 1865, Chapter 5, 238. Cf. J. HONORÉ, Gli aforismi di Newman, LEV, 2010, 167).

[8] Cf. J. M. BERGOGLIO, “Lenten Message to Priests and Religious”, 21 February 2007, in In Your Eyes I See my Words: Homilies and Speeches from Buenos Aires, Volume 2: 2005-2008, Fordham University Press, 2020.

[9] Cf. Apostolic Constitution Veritatis Gaudium (27 December 2017), 3: “In a word, this calls for changing the models of global development and redefining our notion of progress. Yet the problem is that we still lack the culture necessary to confront this crisis. We lack leadership capable of striking out on new paths”.

[10] Interview given to Father Antonio Spadaro, Civiltà Cattolica, 19 September 2013, p.468.

[11] Schreiben an das Pilgernde Volk Gottes in Deutschland, 29 June 2019.

[12] Cf. Address to the Curia, 22 December 2016.

[13] Apostolic Exhortation Evangelii Nuntiandi (8 December 1975), 14. Saint John Paul II wrote that missionary evangelization “is the primary service which the Church can render to every individual and to all humanity in the modern world, a world which has experienced marvellous achievements but which seems to have lost its sense of ultimate realities and of existence itself” (Encyclical Letter Redemptoris Missio, 7 December 1990, 2).

[14] Cf. Address to Participants at the International Pastoral Congress on the World’s Big Cities, Consistory Hall, 27 November 2014.

[15] Motu Proprio Porta Fidei, 2.

[16] Benedict XVI, Homily, 28 June 2010; cf. Motu Proprio Ubicumque et Semper, 17 October 2010.

[17] An epochal change was noted in France by Cardinal Suhard (we can think of his pastoral letter Essor ou déclin de l’Église, 1947) and by the then-Archbishop of Milan, Giovanni Battista Montini. The latter also questioned whether Italy was still a Catholic country (cf. Opening Address at the VIII National Week of Pastoral Updating, 22 September 1958, in Discorsi e Scritti milanesi 1954-1963, vol. II, Brescia-Roma 1997, 2328).

[18] Saint Paul VI, some fifty years ago, when presenting the new Roman Missal to the faithful, recalled the correspondence between the law of prayer (lex orandi) and the law of faith (lex credendi), and described the Missal as “a demonstration of fidelity and vitality”. He concluded by saying: “So let us not speak of a ‘new Mass’, but rather of ‘a new age in the life of the Church’” (General Audience, 19 November 1969). Analogously, we might also say in this case: not a new Roman Curia, but rather a new age.

[19] Evangelii Gaudium states the rule: “to give priority to actions which generate new processes in society and engage other persons and groups who can develop them to the point where they bear fruit in significant historical events. Without anxiety, but with clear convictions and tenacity” (No. 223).

[20] Interview with Georg Sporschill, S.J. and Federica Radice Fossati Confalonieri: Corriere della Sera, 1 September 2012.


Tuesday, December 10, 2019

"His Heart Is Broken" – On Call to Rome, The Prefect's "Fiat"

Already a major moment in Manila and across the Philippines as the country's main celebration of its patronal feast, to the surprise of no one, Cardinal Chito Tagle's first appearance following his Sunday appointment as prefect of the Propaganda Fide was a four-hankie affair.

While the Pope's pick to oversee the church's worldwide missions – and, soon, the "New Evangelization" of the global north as well – only referred in allegory to his transfer to Rome, using the frame of accepting God's "narrative" as opposed to one's own, at the post-Communion of yesterday's packed Mass of the Immaculate Conception in Manila Cathedral, the Nuncio to the islands, Archbishop Gabriele Giordano Caccia, put Francis' call to Tagle in not just deeply emotional, but strikingly biblical terms as the new prefect broke down in the cathedra he'll soon depart:

Especially with the now-pending vacancy for the capital already dominating the local focus, it bears noting that Caccia – who would normally oversee the succession – is himself outbound over the coming weeks: in late November, Francis tapped the Italian as the Holy See's new mission-chief at the UN headquarters in New York.

Notably (and unusually) a veteran of the First Section of the Secretariat of State – that is, the Curia's operational hub, in contrast to the Second Section, which manages diplomatic relations – the 61 year-old legate will inherit one of the Vatican's main geopolitical listening posts, and a major center of the "soft power" the Holy See has concertedly aimed to burnish under Francis. What's more, the UN mission has become one of Vatican diplomacy's most intensive postings over recent years, requiring a prodigious output of contributions on practically every question facing the international community, so much so that the Pope himself once joked that Caccia's well-loved predecessor, Archbishop Bernardito Auza, had to "write with both hands at the same time."

Himself a Filipino, Auza departed New York last week for Madrid to begin his new posting as Nuncio to Spain. While his public statements will be far fewer, the "both hands" skill will come in handy for all the reports he'll need to prepare – some three-quarters of the 32 Spanish archbishops will be reaching the retirement age of 75 over the next two years, led by the "cardinalatial" incumbents of Valladolid, Valencia, Sevilla, Barcelona, and the capital itself.

Back to Manila, meanwhile, much as a succession atop Asia's marquee diocese would be of immense, worldwide importance in any period, it is all the more so given the present scene, specifically in terms of the prominent tensions between the Filipino bishops and the country's authoritarian president, Rodrigo Duterte, a convert to an Evangelical church who has used the church's leadership as a consistent target in his ongoing campaign to impose "law and order," including through extrajudicial means.

For context, the islands' Catholic population of 80 million-plus (more than 80 percent of the total population) constitutes the global church's third-largest national bloc after Brazil and Mexico.

In that light, though Tagle has pointedly dialed back the open activism of the Manila archbishopric – a history that saw his predecessor, Cardinal Jaime Sin, effectively preside over the 1986 "People Power" revolution (based at a city shrine) that toppled President Ferdinand Marcos – with several of the bench showing considerably less reticence in confronting Duterte (and receiving death threats for it), the preferred tenor of the capital church's next occupant toward the Filipino "White House," Malacañang, is arguably the frame that will define the choice.

Having made several public appeals to seeking "harmony" and "dialogue" since his move was announced – albeit without making reference to any particular situation – Tagle will have an outsize role in the selection of his successor.

Yet at the same time, it shouldn't be lost on anyone that Francis is the Pope who declared Óscar Romero a saint.

*  *  *
Speaking of successions, inevitable as it was, it's still no less significant that Sunday's announcement spurred a considerable uptick of chatter on the next Conclave... and far above the "peanut gallery" at that.

To be sure, with his 83rd birthday coming next week, Francis is showing no signs of slowing down. However, it can be said that by calling Chito Tagle to Rome, a new phase of his nearly eight-year pontificate is underway – one which will bring several long-gestating projects to completion.

Of course, one of those was already on tap for these weeks, with the crucial Post-Synodal Exhortation on Amazonia promised for "the end of the year." On the broader front, meanwhile, as 2019 marked the year in which Francis' voting cardinals first comprised a majority of the College – a figure only set to increase with time – that reality highlights two unique angles set to dominate the making of the next Pope, whenever it should come.

On one side, as Papa Bergoglio has halted Benedict XVI's practice of convening the College for a day of consultation prior to each Consistory – in large part so they could size each other up – what's now a majority of the current body of electors simply don't know each other at all, rendering anyone among them with a significant profile an immediately outsize figure, to an even greater degree than in the past.

Yet what's more, given Francis' insistence on turning away from the traditional centers of prestige to spread the bulk of his red hats across the church's far-flung "peripheries," and usually to smaller dioceses at that, the flip-side to the diversity and pastoral depth of his choices is the extent to which many of them, if not most, lack the administrative experience of running a sprawling, complex local church – let alone the Vatican – above all in terms of the bureaucracy that comes with it.

Here as well, Tagle's backstory stands out: even before taking the helm of Manila's fold of 4 million in 2011, his prior diocese of Imus in Cavite (his own hometown) comprised some 2.5 million Catholics.

As the selection of every new Pope essentially boils down to a sliding scale between pastoral gifts and aecumen in governance – that is, which mix of the two is deemed optimal for the ecclesial moment – how the incoming "Red Pope" fares in the crucible of a major Curial post (especially in the team he recruits to fill out his weaknesses) could well prove determinative for the future of the church, full stop.

Indeed, only a fool would dare prognosticate what a post-Francis stakes will look like – beyond the historic axiom that "Il Papa si fa in Conclave" ("The Pope is made in the Conclave," and there alone), what happened 2013 is more than sufficient proof of the perils of looking too far ahead.

Still, given the past century's precedent that anytime a single figure was perceived as "the man to beat" going in, he's tended to emerge in white – think Pius XII, Paul VI, even Tagle's own "maker," Benedict XVI – what was already one of the most compelling possibilities next time around just got bigger still. And whatever might happen from here, at least for now, that's nothing to sneeze at.


Sunday, December 08, 2019

"Let Us Tell the World...."

For the world's oldest continuous office, it was "the most fabulous crowd" Peter ever saw.

Five years ago next month – two decades after a record 5 million thronged the Quirino Grandstand in Manila's Luneta Park for Mass with John Paul II – Cardinal Chito Tagle and Pope Francis combined to outdo their respective predecessors by at least seven figures, drawing some 6 to 7 million souls (in a driving rain) to yet another closing Eucharist in the heart of global Catholicism's third largest outpost.

As the historic moment for a global Catholicism wrapped up, the call first used at the 1995 edition of a Pope's "Biggest Day Ever" returned to the space, to be taken up with vigor by a new generation.

It took this long, but today's news goes to prove the degree to which Francis never forgot the scene. And now – as the Mission Czar of a missionary pontificate – the figure dubbed long ago as "The Golden Child" has been given worldwide carte blanche to "tell the world of His love" not from the "peripheries," but from the very "center" of the church.

As as a late call from a senior Vatican op put this all-important move: "What [Francis] wants is clear – his successor."

If that concept is news to you, start paying attention.

Either way, the major question now presents itself: does he get the apartment over the Ancora bookshop?

*  *  *
All that said, if there was ever a day for this scribe to be shocked awake from Rome for the first time since B16's resignation, this would've been it – and, indeed, this was it.

As if the week just past wasn't already full enough, these days, one can't even take peace on an Advent Sunday for granted.

Of course, rising to the moment – in this case, literally – is what the moment demanded. Yet the amusing thing is how much of Whispers' more "established" peers were either too stunned or clueless to do the same... and we haven't even reached the more expected critical pieces of these weeks.

Ergo, much as this scribe is hoping to keep at the work, as ever, given the costs that come with it, that can only happen by means of your support:


As Star of the "New" Evangelization, Pope Calls "Golden Child" to Rome

Over the seven years since Francis' election, the activity of the Roman Curia has largely taken a back-seat to the doings of the Pope himself. Yet while that reality is due to a number of factors, for once, it is certainly not the case today.

In an extraordinarily rare Sunday announcement – and on a major feast, no less – at Roman Noon on the Immaculate Conception, Francis named Cardinal Luis Antonio Tagle, 62, until now the head of Asia's largest diocese in Manila, as prefect of the Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples: the 400 year-old entity which oversees the missionary works of the global church.

The last cardinal to be elevated by Benedict XVI before his resignation from the papacy, Tagle's full-time arrival on the Vatican stage – and the massive notice it'll be showered with – reflects that rarest of things on this beat: genuine, undisputed "star power." Over his decade on the global scene, the new Propaganda chief has attracted a cult following that extends well beyond the sizable Filipino diaspora worldwide, in large part given his tendency to wear his heart on his sleeve (and, with it, use his sleeve as a Kleenex).

In terms of the "old Curia," today's move represents Francis' most significant personnel pick since the then-new pontiff named now-Cardinal Pietro Parolin as his Secretary of State within six months of his election in 2013. Then again, not for nothing has the prefect of the Prop Fide long been dubbed the "Red Pope" for the considerable power that the post exercises across a broad swath of the Catholic world.

Known mostly by his own nickname, "Chito," Tagle's habit for either riding a bicycle or the bus even after becoming a bishop at 44 saw him cited as a sentimental papabile going into the 2013 Conclave, and while his seasoning since has kept that thought in evidence through Francis' pontificate, the addition of a major Curial post on his CV will inevitably be seen in some quarters as a move toward "succession planning" on the part of the reigning Pope, who once reportedly confused the boyish-looking cardinal for a seminarian in an elevator at the Domus.

In that light, given his new office's mammoth real-estate holdings and liquid assets – all accrued over centuries to fund the mission works – the fresh scrutiny on the Vatican's portfolios amid a new round of financial scandals hands Tagle (pron.: "Tahg-LAY") an equally formidable challenge, both in terms of the daily stewardship of de Prop Fide's sprawling resources and, even more, flagging concerns over mismanagement.

Given that, as well as the congregation's responsibility for recommending appointments of bishops in the mission territories, this particular assignment can be viewed as a "test-pilot" for the papacy itself, arguably more than any other role. At the same time, though Francis' long-awaited constitution to drastically reform the Roman Curia remains in edits with his "Gang of 6" cardinal-advisers, it is notable that the last major draft of the text, titled Predicate Evangelium ("Preach the Gospel"), would see the Propaganda absorb the Pontifical Council for Promoting the New Evangelization, which Benedict XVI founded during the 2010-11 Pauline Year.

A theological historian of Vatican II, as the cardinal received his doctorate not in Rome, but at the Catholic University of America in Washington (under Fr Joseph Komonchak), today's move brings the first Roman stint of Chito's 37-year priesthood. Even prior to today's move, however, Tagle was already a regular in the city for his secondary work as president of Caritas Internationalis, the worldwide confederation of the church's charitable and humanitarian efforts.

Beyond his extensive travel, Tagle's visibility in the wider church has been bolstered by The Word Exposed – the half-hour TV program he hosts in metro Manila on each Sunday's readings, which is syndicated to other Catholic media outlets worldwide.

Today's move was made possible by Francis' transfer of Cardinal Fernando Filoni – the Propaganda's head since 2011 – to be grand master of the Equestrian Order of the Holy Sepulchre of Jerusalem. A former Sostituto best known as the lone ambassador who didn't flee Baghdad's "Green Zone" during the US-led invasion in 2003, it's notable that Filoni was moved 16 months before reaching the retirement age of 75.

With Filoni's appointment to the Grand Magistrate, the Bronx-born Cardinal Edwin O'Brien has retired as head of the millennium-old order dedicated to the protection of the holy sites in Jerusalem and Palestine, and the general support of the church in the Holy Land.

The 15th archbishop of Baltimore, and a Vietnam vet who later served a decade as chief of the 1.5 million US Catholics serving in uniform around the world, O'Brien has kept up a frenetic pace of travel on the order's behalf despite turning 80 in April.

In a change of his long-set plans, while O'Brien had aimed to return to the US – specifically, Baltimore and not New York – on his release from the Holy Sepulchre post, a Whispers op close to the cardinal relays that he will instead keep his primary base in Rome for the time being.

* * *
SVILUPPO: Even if formal word of Tagle's appointment surfaced at 7pm Manila time, the Chancery of the Pinoy capital says that the new prefect's first comment on the move won't come until tomorrow's Mass of the Immaculate Conception, the national patroness of the Philippines.

All told, meanwhile, if the epic significance of this move can be boiled down to an analogy from history, this is it: